Most online courses provide a one-size-fits-all experience through self-paced modules. The future is personalized, adaptive learning.

At some point, that future will probably look like sophisticated machine learning algorithms tracking user progression through course material, assessing levels of understanding, and adapting curriculum to fit their needs. But for now, there are some lightweight techniques we can use to create a personalized, adaptive experience for our students:

Assess and Practice

A personal trainer gauges your fitness, and plans specific workouts to help you develop in areas where you're not as strong, towards your overall goals. A music teacher observes your performance and prescribes certain exercises and pieces to develop specific technical skills, towards the goal of enhancing your abilities.

In a similar vein, consider how you can monitor each student’s individual progress, uncover gaps in understanding, and tailor the learning journey to include targeted practice opportunities at spaced intervals.

Testing Out

More often than not, your students will have specific topics in mind that they want to learn, and may skip around to the most relevant content. But just because a student thinks they know the material, doesn't necessarily mean they've mastered it at the appropriate level.

Consider allowing students to take an assessment on topics they already feel comfortable with. Use these assessments as a mirror to show students where their skills stack up on specific topics, and help them make informed decisions around what topics they should skip or review. Or make passing these assessments required to progress to more advanced topics.

Supplemental Materials

Recommend some resources students can use to go deeper into specific topics outside of your course.

This encourages students to take control of their own learning journey, to dig into topics they're interested in or feel they need more practice in, and to be mindful of learning as an ongoing process.

Interactive Q&A

One of the best times to personalize the student experience is when they get stuck.

Create channels to get feedback from students on areas where they aren’t 100%, whether it’s to post on student forums to get help from the community, reach out to you for support, or visit you during online office hours.

And once you spot areas where students need help, you're in a position to give them individualized assistance. Suggest supplemental materials, give them additional exercises, or if applicable, refer them to where an answer already exists. Often these kinds of interactions make a significant difference in student success, and end up being some of the biggest drivers of student satisfaction with a course.